Marion County schools won’t require facemasks

Students wear their masks as they get off their buses at West Port High School in Ocala, Fla. on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

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Posted July 22, 2021 | By Joel Bronson, 

Students wear their masks as they get off their buses at West Port High School in Ocala, in this October file photo. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 

The Marion County School Board agreed to make face coverings optional for the 2021-22 school year, as well as returning to full capacity for athletic and arts events.

At a special workshop on Thursday, the board members agreed that face coverings should be optional, while social distancing should be observed as much as possible.

Diane Gullett, Marion County Public Schools superintendent, voiced her approval for the decision.

Members of the community shared their thoughts about the board’s decision.

“This is common sense,” said Tracy Okus while addressing the board. “Hopefully, things can be a little more—a lot more—normal for our kids.”

Lucy Sullivan, an Ocala resident, expressed her support for the move.

“I like the optional masks,” Sullivan said.

One concerned parent, Brian Karth, expressed his belief that these kinds of decisions should be made by parents, not the school board.

“I don’t want you making decisions for me about my kids,” Karth said.

Board Member Eric Cummings shared his concern for student safety.

“We need to make sure we do the right thing health-wise,” Cummings said.

The plan is for athletic and arts events to return to full capacity, with measures still observed in the interest of safety and public health.

Jody Phillips, public school athletic director, said that most surrounding counties are going back to full capacity to start the 2021-22 school year.

“Seminole County is the only county in the vicinity that will not start at 100% capacity,” Phillips said.

Seminole County has decided to open the athletic year at 50% capacity.

According to a school board press release, optional events like athletics, art and music performances will welcome full audiences, recognizing options could quickly change based on community health conditions.

Schools will stress regular hand washing, daily disinfecting of high touch and flat surface areas, and use of water bottle refill stations, among other safety precautions.

The Florida Department of Health (DOH) in Marion County will offer COVID-19 vaccinations at the Paddock Mall on July 31 from 9 a.m. to noon as part of their “Back to School” vaccination initiative.

“Back to School” vaccinations will also be provided at the DOH, 1801 SE 32nd Ave., on Aug. 7 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

To make an appointment for vaccinations or locate your closest COVID-19 testing site, call 352-644-2590 or visit

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